10 Ways to Make a Bad Skin Day Better (Or, Acne Psychology 101)
There’s no two ways about it. If you get pimples, you’ve probably at some point felt ugly, shy, embarrassed, dirty, or like you want to put a paper bag over your head and cry. So you read acne advice from “experts” and it makes you want to scream because it’s always the same, none of it works, the products are expensive, and they’re loaded with toxic chemicals. But this list isn’t about how to banish breakouts. (You can read that one here.) Instead, it’s about acne psychology, which is way, way worse than pimples—trust. Here are my 10 tips for getting over a bad skin day. I can’t wait to read yours, in the comments.
Know that the good ones don’t notice. And if they notice, they don’t care. If you’ve ever had a very nice boyfriend or girlfriend, you know this one is true: Literally no one cares about your pimples except you…and really mean people. One time, I was writing a profile of a famous musician who looks in person, and without makeup, like an airbrushed photograph. We were driving around in her car and she saw a friend of hers on the street so she pulled over and rolled down the window. Her friend, smiling, said, “Hi! Welcome back. It’s so nice to see you!” or something to that effect. So what did the famous lady say? Did she say “Thanks, hon, it’s great to see you too! Wanna get a slice of pizza and catch up?”? No. The famous person said “Your face is a mess! What have you been doing?!” Her friend’s face fell. And so did mine. You maybe think I’m making this up because no one would ever speak to another person like that, right? Especially not a rich and famous and genetically blessed person, right? Right! Except I didn’t make it up. Moral of the story: That person is really mean and the reason it sounds implausible is that most people are not like this. Most people, and you’ll just have to take my word for it, do not notice your pimples, and if they do notice them, they don’t care.
Wear red lipstick. You know when someone says “Look over there!” and then steals one of your fries? This is like that, but on your face. By drawing attention to your mouth with a bright color, you are drawing attention away from whatever it is you wish wasn’t there. Also, red lipstick is a mood booster and it makes you feel bold—which is a great way to counter the “I want to cancel my dinner plans and hide” feeling.
Do your hair. This morning I woke up with an unfortunately placed spot and even though it’s raining—I usually skip doing my ‘do on rainy days—I made sure to get my hair extra smooth. The logic? When you’re broken out, it’s hard to feel pulled together even though, remember: you still probably LOOK pulled together because no one can tell by looking at you that inside you feel like a teenager. But when your hair is done nicely, you all of a sudden don’t care about the constellation on your chin. This is a time-tested coping strategy. Work it.
Smile at strangers. A friend once said that when her skin is spotty, she finds herself staring at her feet in public because doing so makes her feel invisible. It’s such a sad sentiment and I’ve totally been there: The psychological toll of breakouts is literally 95% of it, and it’s awful. To counter this feeling, try doing the opposite and then some: Hold your head up and smile. Seriously. Don’t be the crazy person on the train about it, but a gentle smile is disarming, pretty, and it makes you feel better, too.
Don’t wear a scarf. I used to do this a lot: Pashmina doublewrapped around my neck, even in the summer. Except here’s the thing: Scarfs may make you feel protected because you’re essentially swaddling yourself, but they do not hide what is on your face. And in fact, by wrapping the area around your face, you are more likely drawing attention to it as opposed to away from it. Also, maybe it’s dirty and giving you pimples.
Point it out to a friend. Don’t do this with the mean chick I told you about, but pointing out your zits actually erases the terror that the pimple-afflicted feel which is: DO THEY SEE IT? ARE THEY STARING AT IT? Again, no, they’re not. But by pointing it out, you’re taking out the paranoid guesswork, and probably your friend will say something nice like “Aww, I hadn’t noticed,” or “I’ve been trying this green tea clay and I feel like it might work—do you want some?” or simply “You look so pretty, don’t be silly.”
Cover the damn thing. People say pimples heal faster when you leave them alone and don’t wear makeup, and people say that covering zits only makes them look worse, and that all may very well be true, but if a little makeup, even terribly applied (but with a clean brush), will make you feel better mentally, then do it. Just be sure you aren’t compounding the problem with something irritating.
Pronounce vulnerable with a W. OK this one is weird but hear me out: Breakouts make us feel vulnerable. To counter this, try this thing that my yoga teacher Matt said once in class: When you’re vulnerable—awful feeling, am I right? But such a rich one, too!—your feelings are the most serious, enormous, important things in the whole wide world. Take away their power by pronouncing that word, out loud, with a W. Seriously. Next time you look in the mirror and feel bashful, say it. I promise it works.
Visualize it shrinking. Another weird one. I can’t promise this will make your swelling subside, but it sure feels good: Before bed or in the bathroom at work, close your eyes and literally imagine the zit disappearing. You’ll feel like you’re doing something healing for yourself, and that’s a good feeling to have, zits or not.
Touch your face. Just kidding, but hold on: how-to-get-rid-of-breakout stories are always telling you not to touch your face and not to pick and not to do this, that and the third. Here’s the truth: If you have a zit on your face, you’re going to do anything you think will work to make it go away. For some of you that means picking, and it sometimes means touching. Yes, it might make it worse, and yes you might scar, but it also might make you feel better, because it seems somehow more proactive than doing nothing. So go ahead and touch your face (just be sure to put some kind of natural antibacterial on it before bed, please).
Now it’s your turn. Do you have bad skin days? Have you tried any of these things? What are your tips?